Naguib Mahfouz’s “Midaq Alley” contains luscious examples of gritty realism, where the importance of verisimilitude reigns supreme. One such example begins on page 169, where Mrs. Afify travels to Dr. Booshy asking him to “examine my teeth” and ending with the doctor “cursing the old woman for trying to pretend she was young,” on page 171. Through usage of vernacular diction, absence of authorial commentary, and trite subject matter, Mahfouz establishes this scene as one of many that exemplify realism.
Concentration on commonplace conversation maintains an interaction that is easy to follow and imagine as if it had happened in real life. Using techniques such as trailing off at the end of “a few of the others are a little rotten…” and “Open your mouth…” create the natural pauses in the flow of conversation that would exist in reality. Additionally, the exchange between Dr. Booshy and Mrs. Afify is as powerful in what is vocally exchanged as what is kept silent. Dr. Booshy’s claim that gold teeth in a month is “impossible” is quickly offset by Mrs. Afify’s “All right, goodbye then” which prompts a further exchange in which Mrs. Afify is surprised at the cost of “ten pounds.” In this case, less is more, as Mahfouz allows the reader to fill in the gaps between dialogue with rich personal experience.
The subject of the passage itself is a lesson in alleyway banality that would, in non-realist novels, not exist. After coming in to have her teeth checked-a practice that wouldn’t normally warrant record-Dr. Booshy concludes that “we’ll need several days to take out these teeth…That way the gums dry out and meanwhile you can rest your mouth.” Immediately Mahfouz creates a sense of business syntax that persists almost to the point of monotony. And even with the tension created by both the interest of time and price of the gold pallet, the situation remains little more than a daily interaction. When the two “set about bargaining,” they eventually settle on a mid-range price, which further illustrates the customary, realistic nature of the passage.
Most importantly, the passage, and “Midaq Alley” as a whole, lacks a distinct authorial voice. Rather, the characters and conversations stand alone, allowing for more complete interpretation and reader experience without gratuitous asides or monologues. Instead, Mahfouz includes passages such as Mrs. Afify’s transaction with Dr. Booshy for the sake of conveying the reality of life in Egypt in the 1940s. The importance of Midaq Alley lies less in overall motifs and ambiguous symbols and more in the overall encompassing themes of humanity.
Mahfuz, Najib. Midaq Alley. New York: Anchor, 1992. Print.